If Arsenal wanted to feel confident going into its first Premier League meeting with Manchester City this Wednesday, it could’ve served itself better than losing to Everton and drawing Brentford.
No shots at the opposition in question — especially the Bees — but while Man City dispatched Aston Villa and looks very much ready to defy their doubters and take back first place, Arsenal looked like a team that hasn’t been there feeling its way through a rut.
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Will it climb out of that rut on Wednesday? Because the Gunners showed us the ability to win when not at their best earlier this season — and may be claiming the same after Saturday’s match if VAR was behaving itself — but Man City and Manchester United are doing that now and threatening to have the Gunners as low as third by some time in March.
What did we learn from the Premier League this weekend? Here’s where our writers are living, as Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Andy Edwards (AE), and Nicholas Mendola (NM) share their observations from across the most recent PL games.
10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 23
1. Here come the (aggrieved) champions (Man City 3-1 Aston Villa): If Pep Guardiola knew the 100+ charges filed against Manchester City this week would inevitably occur, he’d probably thank the “other 19 teams” for whatever happened that made the Premier League announce the charges this week. Guardiola’s previously morose two-time defending champions took about two minutes to get the ball from Villa and then never really let it go, scoring thrice in the first half and setting the stage for Wednesday’s huge clash at Arsenal where a win will send City atop Arsenal on goal differential (The Gunners will have a match-in-hand regardless of what happens Wednesday). Unai Emery’s Villa was well-prepared and it just didn’t matter in the long run. City anywhere near its best for any period of time — in this case it was about 40 minutes — is too much for almost anyone. And that’s the message City wanted to send to wobbled Arsenal ahead of Wednesday’s big clash in North London. (NM)
2. Extra quality, momentum makes difference in Leeds vs Man Utd, pt. 2 (Leeds 0-2 Man Utd): This was a very even game but the extra quality of Manchester United’s players, especially in attack, made the difference. The fact that Erik ten Hag’s side have been in sensational form in recent months helped too as they just had an extra air of confidence when they got in the final third compared to Leeds. That is understandable given where both teams are on the Premier League table, and manager-less Leeds can take a lot of positives from their two displays against Manchester United this week. However, this was a case of very good players figuring out a way to get past a stubborn opponent and doing just enough to get the win. Manchester United are far from fluid right now but Erik ten Hag was able to rotate his squad, get the win, and keep their brilliant resurgent going. (JPW)
3. Arsenal wobbles again ahead of massive Man City match (Arsenal 1-1 Brentford): Look at the traditional stats and you’ll be wondering just how Arsenal failed to fully bounce back from its surprise loss to Everton. Mikel Arteta’s men had 69 percent of the ball at home and out-attempted the Bees 23-9, completing 509 passes compared to just 180 for Brentford. The Bees won the xG battle by a 2.37-1.68 margin and FotMob credits them with three ‘big chances’ to Arsenal’s one. If Arsenal is going to contend for a Premier League title — really contend for it — it can’t afford many two-match stretches in which they claim just a single point, especially if those matches are against Everton away and Brentford at home (although the Gunners will be fuming with reports that VAR did not draw offside lines on what appears to be a clear offside in the buildup to Brentford’s goal). All that said: Beat Man City at home on Wednesday and you might just be uncatchable. It’s a big one, and Arsenal’s been waiting all year to pass a test like this. (NM)
4. Chelsea fails to click in final third (West Ham 1-1 Chelsea): Chelsea looked superb in the first half as they scored a beauty with Enzo Fernandez’s perfectly-timed pass over the top to Joao Felix and they scored two others when they were just offside. The runs were good — just mistimed — and when this clicks for Chelsea in the final third it will be a joy to watch. However, it is all very clunky right now and that is to be expected with so many new signings in the starting lineup together. Fernandez ticked things over nicely in midfield and Chelsea had plenty of the ball but they just couldn’t control the tempo of the game for the full 90 minutes. Mykhailo Mudryk and Felix looked sharp in attack but the problem for Graham Potter is that he has so many options in his squad and he still doesn’t seem to know his best lineup. He will find that out soon but right now a top-four finish still seems a very long way away for Chelsea. (JPW)
5. Leicester hammers lifeless Tottenham as Conte returns from absence (Leicester 4-1 Spurs): A victory would have sent Tottenham over Newcastle for fourth place in the Premier League table (temporarily, at least) and to within one point of 3rd-place Manchester United. And an early lead sure would’ve had Tottenham feeling good. Spurs jumped ahead 1-0 in rather fortuitous circumstances, as Victor Kristiansen played the ball across the face of his own goal for Rodrigo Bentancur to guide into an empty net. That was as good as things would get as Antonio Conte returned from a one-game absence following gallbladder surgery, as the Tottenham defense was pulled apart every which way by Leicester’s pace and directness. To add injury to insult, Bentancur left the game in significant pain after appearing to injure his knee in the second half.(AE)
6. Improving Cherries show Newcastle second gear won’t do (Bournemouth 1-1 Newcastle): Bournemouth’s getting better and Newcastle’s results are meeting their performances more often than they did earlier in the season. Some would say the Magpies had an eye toward the League Cup Final, but that would mean the side would also be looking past a visit from Liverpool next Saturday. No, its more likely that Eddie Howe’s men, still missing suspended Bruno Guimaraes, are just a bit down right now. Bournemouth’s added danger and will no longer inevitably allow two goals per game. Dango Ouattara is a breath of fresh air on the right side and it’s fitting the Marcos Senesi put them in front because he’s been solid in defense all year. It’s a deserved point for Bournemouth at home, and a big reminder for Newcastle ahead of Liverpool in the Premier League followed by Man United in a cup final. (NM)
7. Bees buzz at the right time to keep Arsenal wobbly (Arsenal 1-1 Brentford): Ivan Toney’s had a wild journey from Newcastle’s next big thing to Brentford’s now big thing, and he’s right up there with Harry Kane as the most complete center forwards in the league right now. Throw in an in-form Mathias Jensen and rightly acknowledge Ben Mee as a potential signing of the season (in any season without Erling Haaland), and Brentford deserves its 10-match Premier League unbeaten run. (NM)
8. Nathan Jones’ Southampton end is a nasty one (Southampton 1-2 Wolves): The way Southampton collapsed in the second half was embarrassing at St. Mary’s. In a season of incredible lows for the team who sit rock bottom of the Premier League, this was the lowest point. 1-0 up at home with 17 minutes to go, playing against 10 men for most of the game, Saints shrunk and Wolves’ equalizer was coming. Southampton never recovered from that and it looked like the Saints were playing with 10 men in the second half. Nathan Jones had to change the tactics and the personnel but he didn’t. He let Wolves get back in the game and this defeat was the end for him as a Premier League manager this season. After four months, it is not working. Saints somehow still had a chance of saving themselves this season and they had to act now. (JPW)
9. Mixed feelings for Seagulls after away point (Crystal Palace 1-1 Brighton): A painful howler by goalkeeper Robert Sanchez cost Brighton two points, as they settled for a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace in the M23 derby at Selhurst Park on Saturday. Aside from Sanchez’s temporary loss of hand functionality, Brighton was its typically brilliant self in possession, as they racked up 2.36 xG on 17 shots (5 on target), compared to just 0.89 (6 shots, 2 on target) for Crystal Palace (25 points – 12th place). So, yeah, mixed feelings for Brighton regarding the result. Their unbeaten run is now five games (3W-2D), but they could have moved within two points of fifth-place Tottenham after Spurs were hammered by Leicester on Saturday. (AE)
10. Fulham chipping away at European surprise as Forest keeps fighting (Fulham 2-0 Nottingham Forest): Fulham has a lot of class and is playing very much in the image of its fiery, up-tempo manager Marco Silva. Willian looks better than he has in ages — that goal! — and Andreas Pereira has found the level Manchester United thought he would when it tried to get him into star mode. But it’s the back and Bernd Leno who looks the best, very difficult to break down. Tim Ream honestly is a sleeper Best XI center back option if Fulham qualifiers for Europe and Antonee Robinson, Issa Diop, and Kenny Tete also look good. Forest’s excuses are helped by the fact that Chris Wood was Forest’s center forward to start but Emmanuel Dennis didn’t start any fires when he got into the mix and Taiwo Awoniyi’s still out hurt. Forest can feel good about the future but Cooper’s again been asked to reorganize his best options and that just isn’t a healthy cycle. (NM)